Right message, wrong messenger


We have a strange relationship with our athletes in the United States.

We simultaneously deify them, while operating under the “show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy” doctrine.

We like our athletes to be social leaders as well.

When Michael Jordan declined to endorse an African-American senate candidate against unabashed racist Jesse Helms in 1990, he was lambasted for a quote along the lines of “Republicans buy sneakers, too” that was attributed to him. (It’s unclear if he ever actually said this.)

On the other hand, a large segment of American sports fans would say, “Stick to hitting home runs” to an athlete who might make a controversial political statement.

In the last few years, there has been a rash of fatal shootings of unarmed African-Americans by police officers.

Adding to the tragedy, the offending officers have been overwhelmingly acquitted, adding to a sense of hopelessness for many young black men about their place in American society.

Even America’s country-clubbiest Republican, former House Speaker John Boehner, declared the relations between the black community and law enforcement to be tragically broken.

Fanning the flames on the other side of the issue was then-candidate and now Bigot-in-Chief Donald Trump.

With his modus operandi of leaving no Caucasian’s insecurity un-inflamed, Trump and the biological virus that is the right-wing media banged the drum of the notion that (white) cops were under attack at all times.

Into this orbit strode Colin Kaepernick, a once quality quarterback whose skills appeared to be rapidly declining at the beginning of last year’s NFL season when he elected to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem.

Kaepernick, who is half African-American, made this statement as a protest of the treatment of African-Americans by law enforcement.

Kaepernick had a valid point.

Full stop.

If you doubt that, look no further than the recent acquittal of Philando Castile’s assassin and the ensuing silence by the National Rifle Association, even though Castile was a legally licensed gun-owner.

But he ignored one hard and fast rule about entering the political debate: You always have to be on.

Kaepernick undermined his critical message by his actions after the initial protest.

His decision to wear socks emblazoned with pigs in police uniforms was wildly childish.

As the press gaggle around his locker remained constant, Kaerpnick was often pouty and disinterested, like a teenager no longer interested in his favorite hobby.

He declined to engage with political leaders.

Those actions gave the right wing all it needed to diminish the message by attacking the messenger.

Counter this with the actions of others.

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin brokered a meeting with the Washington attorney general.

A fellow protester, then-Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey, responded to an attack from that solidly Republican state’s governor by asking and having a conversation about the issue.

Policies can change before hearts and minds can.

By choosing to ignore the necessities of political communication, Kaepernick has allowed himself, instead of his wildly important ideas, to remain the focus of the conversation.

While his continued philanthropic giving around this concern is extremely admirable, he squandered the high ground.

For that reason, Colin Kaeprnick had the right message but was the wrong messenger.